WhatsApp for better customer service

The impact of personal messaging on your business

★★★ includes 5 best practices and lots of tips & tricks ★★★

Chapter 3

Early WhatsApp adopters


Offers WhatsApp customer service since 2015:

  • ABN AMRO, Dutch bank
  • Tep Wireless, London startup
  • Studystore, Dutch online book shop
  • NLE, Dutch energy supplier, offers

Offers advice through WhatsApp since 2015:

  • Horizn Studios, Berlin startup

About ABN AMRO:
ABN AMRO on WhatsApp: ‘Prepare yourself, launch softly and keep your team happy.’

ABN AMRO, a Dutch bank for retail, corporate and private banking headquartered in Amsterdam, offers its clients a full range of products and services as well as in-depth financial and industry expertise. Located in over 20 countries, it allows its clients to reach out through WhatsApp, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, live chat, email and phone.

An NPS score of a whopping +27 – that’s how popular the new WhatsApp service is at ABN AMRO, one of Holland’s biggest banks. ‘+27 is bizarrely high,’ confirms Andius Teijgeler, ABN AMRO’s customer experience director. ‘Like most banks, our general NPS score is -20. That’s about average for a financial institution. People don’t necessarily love a bank. But they love WhatsApp, that’s for sure.’

Andius started looking into WhatsApp in the final months of 2014. Several of his colleagues had suggested he’d look into this simple little messaging app. In the first quarter of 2015, quite a few companies in the Netherlands bravely announced they were starting a trial offering WhatsApp as a customer service channel.

ABN AMRO was one of these early adopters: in January 2015, Andius set the WhatsApp train in motion. ‘I felt we were obliged to do so: companies that claim they take customer service seriously, can’t ignore a channel used by so many people. It’s simply not an option not to offer WhatsApp customer service. Only if it turns out that this type of service doesn’t meet the clients’ wishes, would we consider giving up this service.’

In ABN AMRO’s case, it’s not about the number of customer queries received each day. It’s about being there for customers, taking them by the hand when the world of finance gets too complex. ‘Our clients should be able to get in touch with their bank as quickly and easily as possible. WhatsApp is one of our extra services, just like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. And all of these are just as important as the traditional communication channels.’

Based on ABN AMRO’s experience with WhatsApp, Andius has 3 golden tips to share: be prepared before you take off, launch softly and sweetly, and keep your WhatsApp team happy at all times!

ABN AMRO’s tip number 1: Prepare yourself

So if you decide to run a so-called “test and learn” pilot, think it through and take it slow. You don’t want to fail this test. What if there’s a crisis at your company, and your WhatsApp channel is suddenly bombarded with an overload of queries? Would you be able to handle them all quickly easily? Make sure you have enough people on your webcare team capable of responding to the WhatsApp channel.

ABN AMRO – renowned for its high-quality social service – took a few months to do research. ‘We first gathered information about security, privacy and identification. Then we played around a bit with a WhatsApp tool that would allow us to engage in lots of conversations at the same time. We got a team of people ready to join the WhatsApp team. Only then did we go public about the new service – and that was only on Facebook and Twitter, where our customers are well-disposed towards us already.’

ABN AMRO’s tip number 2: Launch softly

On July 14th, 2015, ABN AMRO posted a status update on Twitter and Facebook about the new WhatsApp service: “Today, we’re enabling the first group of clients to reach our customer service desk 24/7 through WhatsApp. Would you like to ask us a question using WhatsApp? Send us a private message.” Lots of people responded positively, and with this beloved and loving group, ABN AMRO gently started experimenting.

After 2 months, ABN AMRO was certain enough to open up the doors: in September, a newsletter to 240.000 clients contained a small post about the WhatsApp number the bank now used for customer support. ‘We sent out a second newsletter to another 240.000 clients in November,’ Andius says. ‘Both times the number of queries went sky-high.’

The bank, however, didn’t encounter any major problems. ‘We just kept on doing what we did: managing both risks and customer expectations. We asked for feedback and listened to what clients and our WhatsApp webcare team experienced.’

ABN AMRO’s tip number 3: Keep your team happy

Don’t underestimate the importance of your webcare people. They should be a happy team, helping out customers in need with a big smile. If they don’t enjoy dealing with WhatsApp questions, your customers will notice and your company will pay. Appearing genuinely interested is extremely important with a channel as personal as WhatsApp.

Thankfully WhatsApp is a rewarding channel for customer service representatives, because most people love it (which is why the NPS is so high). If you play it well, both sides will be smiling. Ideally, your WhatsApp team consists only of people who proactively said they wanted to join the team. Whatever you do: don’t force anyone to be on the WhatsApp team.

ABN AMRO now has a total of 34 webcare specialists responding to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, live chat – and WhatsApp. They typically respond within 5 minutes. In the first 5 months of the trial, over 5.000 conversations were conducted through WhatsApp – totalling up to 50.000 in- and outbound messages about daily bank affairs, such as changing withdrawal limits, replacing broken or stolen debit cards and applying for a credit card.

ABN AMRO is one of the few companies that use a stand-alone tool to manage WhatsApp as a customer service channel. It’s Andius’ conviction that a CRM-driven tool isn’t always necessary or even better. ‘CRM isn’t a solution – it’s a tool that should serve a purpose. If information isn’t relevant, why bother? With a channel like WhatsApp, speed is more important than an elaborate customer profile. For us, WhatsApp is about dealing with messages in a way that makes our clients feel heard.’


About Tep Wireless
Tep Wireless on WhatsApp: ‘Use good software, reply quickly, and cherish each conversation.’

Tep Wireless, founded in 2011 and based in London, is a hotspot rental company that provides today’s travellers with wireless internet access in most of the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia. Tep’s wifi device works just like any other Wifi hotspot, but is yours only and fits in your pocket. Customers can get in touch 24/7 through WhatsApp, live chat, email, phone and SMS.

The idea for Tep Wireless, a pocket wifi rental company, was born in 2009. Dennis Jorgensen and Simone Rigoni were brainstorming about how annoying it was to have expensive (or no) access to the internet whilst travelling. ‘Every single traveller should be able go online without going broke,’ Dennis said. ‘It became our goal to make this happen.’

Two years after that initial chat, their company Tep Wireless was launched. It was an instant hit. ‘Apparently we were right: almost everyone on earth wants to enjoy internet on the go. It’s no wonder they love our pocket wifi devices.’ So far, Tep Wireless rented out its smart little gadget to hundreds of thousands people, aged 18 to 60 years on average. Dennis’ and Simone’s company now has 2 logistics hubs and 40 employees, 10 of whom work from South-East Asia, where the customer service team is based.

Tep Wireless takes customer service pretty seriously indeed. Apart from email and phone, (potential) customers can reach Tep through live chat, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram and Pinterest. In 2015, WhatsApp was added to that list. ‘WhatsApp is one of the best communication channels out there, period, for any type of interaction (business or pleasure),’ Dennis explains. ‘Ultimately, our service is all about making life easier for our customers, so why not maintain the same ethos for our customer service? We want our customers to be able to contact us in any way possible. WhatsApp is a perfect addition to the other channels. Especially since it’s highly personal and has virtually replaced SMS for a lot of people.

Dennis tried a bunch of alternatives before finding Casengo, Tep’s current software provider. ‘It’s very important to find a tool that your team can use collaboratively to reply to customers quickly and without fail. Only be happy with a solution that allows your customer service team to deal with multiple chats simultaneously. Responding quickly to WhatsApp messages really pays off!’

Tep’s tip number 1: use good WhatsApp customer service software

Tep offers a 24/7 WhatsApp service that is staffed by 2 to 4 customer support agents at the same time. So the company needed a scalable and structural solution to support this setup. With a customer service team of 10 people, it’s just not workable to have a smartphone go from hand to hand.

Tep’s tip number 2: reply quickly and efficiently

If you send the Tep customer service team a question through WhatsApp, you’ll usually get a reply within a minute. Four minutes is the absolute maximum, which is only easily achievable when using good, intuitive software.

Tep’s tip number 3: cherish each WhatsApp conversation (even just one a day)

With about a dozen WhatsApp conversations per day, the volumes aren’t particularly high yet. ‘But it’s not about the numbers. If we’ve done our job, then our customers shouldn’t be contacting us at all.’ If they do, however, have a question, customers should be able to get in touch with a company through whatever channel they want – like WhatsApp. ‘Ultimately, our service is all about making life easier for our customers,’


About Studystore
Studystore on WhatsApp: ‘Enjoy the personal connection, mirror your customers and don’t let fear spoil the party.’

Studystore is one of Holland’s largest suppliers of higher education textbooks and other educational material. Through 5 campus stores, hundreds of student societies and an excellent website, Studystore sells, buys and resells books to over 250.000 college students. They can get in touch using phone, email, live chat and WhatsApp.

Studystore is widely known amongst students and alumni in the Netherlands: when they were at school or university, lots of people ordered textbooks from this brand or its parent company Van Dijk (established in 1937). As the Dutch academic year starts in August or September, Studystore is a major e-commerce player in the Netherlands from June until September, when most students order their educational material.

Last summer, Studystore launched a new, fully responsive web store, allowing students to order material quickly and easily on their smartphone or tablet. ‘We wanted to enrich the new store with more communication channels,’ Simon Bosschieter, product manager at Studystore, says. ‘Students don’t function without their mobile phone or their laptop. That’s why we started with both live chat and WhatsApp.’

Email, live chat and WhatsApp were all bundled in one software tool: Casengo. ‘That way, our customer service team was able to respond even quicker and more directly to students,’ Simon explains. ‘It was rather scary to start using new software right before the summer peak. But we’re happy we just went for it. We had a great summer revenue, with a more complete customer view than before, and much shorter response times.’

Studystore’s tip number 1: Enjoy the personal connection
‘Sure, the new WhatsApp, live chat and email tools help us to assist our customers from start to finish much faster. We’d expected that. But something that happily surprised us, is how wonderful it can be to be personally in touch with your customers. We got WhatsApp messages right from the beach! We loved being able to respond to them right away.’

Studystore’s tip number 2 – Mirror your customers
‘For both live chat and WhatsApp, it’s important to get on the same wavelength as your customers. Our customer base is young. We don’t react like college professors when a student asks us: “Yo, where are my books? Should have received them two days ago!” A formal reply would immediately make us lose the true connection with this customer.’

Studystore’s tip number 3: Don’t let fear spoil the party
‘If you start with a new customer communication channel like WhatsApp, it’s easy to be a bit anxious about negative reactions. Our experience is that this is a false fear. Don’t worry too much. Sure, you’ll get unpleasant messages once in a while, but remain open and calm. At the end of the day, customers are happy you are willing to listen!’


About Horizn Studios:

Horizn Studios on WhatsApp: ‘Use good software, manage expectations and try not to get blocked.’

Horizn Studios develops high quality leather handbags and travel bags that combine design, technology and smart services. The Berlin-based design team loves to discover new technologies that make traveling easier. With each product, customers receive free access to the Horizn Travel Assistant Service for 12 months. Through WhatsApp, the Service provides inspiration and advice for stress-free travel experiences.

Offering advice through good old SMS. That seems like a great idea – one-on-one yet very accessible communication – until your customers receive the monthly phone bill… Roaming costs are high; too high for most of today’s globetrotters. They’re used to free apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger and are literally not buying expensive text messaging anymore.

Horizn Studios, a young and international design company that produces luxury leather goods and other smart luggage-related stuff, was aware of this issue from the very start. ‘Before launching our Travel Assistant Service, we researched the various ways of B2C communication extensively. We wanted a free communication channel that our customers would enjoy using,’ Hilde Sanderman, Horizn’s Head of Travel Services, says. ‘It would distinguish us from other concierge services, that generally use standard SMS.’

They soon opted for WhatsApp, the ideal channel for their Travel Assistant Service. Fast, trustworthy, free – and very, very popular, Hilde explains. ‘Our customers are mostly between 25 and 45 years old. They live all over the world, but they have one thing in common: they’re on WhatsApp.’

Horizn Studios’ Travel Assistant Service - free for people who buy a Horizn Studios travel item (other people pay a monthly fee of 25 euro) - offers contemporary globetrotters both inspiration and insider tips through WhatsApp. One in five customers actually activates the service to be inspired and advised. ‘They ask us for lots of different things, like booking a restaurant or plane tickets, or be guided through an entire trip.’

Horizn Studios’ tip number 1: Use good software to make WhatsApp support workable

Not all that many companies use WhatsApp for customer support. Hilde knows why: a lot of business owners think it’s only possible to offer WhatsApp support unless they have a dedicated smartphone lying around the office and going from one active support employee to the next. ‘That’s a thing of the past. There are quite a few software solutions available made specifically for WhatsApp support, turning it into a very smart customer service tool.’

Horizn Studios uses Casengo from the very start of its new Travel Assistant Service. ‘We started with a trial, but we soon had 2 fulltime agents on WhatsApp support. It’s been great in almost every way.’ The fact that WhatsApp still protects its API like a newborn baby, means that quite some businesses using WhatsApp have to be careful: the folks at WhatsApp will block or ban them if they appear too commercial. Yes, WhatsApp truly despises commercial activity.

Horizn Studios’ tip number 2: Avoid getting blocked by WhatsApp

Horizn Studios, Hildeman says, rarely experiences technical problems with the WhatsApp channel. ‘That’s partly because we use good software, but also because we know how to avoid blocks in the first place. We’re not operating a WhatsApp support system to get people to buy our products. We’re merely helping them out.’

Check out chapter 2 for concrete tips and tricks on dealing with WhatsApp.

Horizn Studios’ tip number 3: Manage customer expectations

The Horizn Studios Travel Asssistant can be reached daily from 9am to 9pm. Immediately after sending their message, customers get this automated reply: ‘Great to hear from you, {CUSTOMER}! As your Personal Horizn Studios Travel Assistant I am right by your side to inspire and advise, assist with bookings and provide travel support. I will get back to you soonest. Thanks!’

A Horizn Studio travel expert subsequently answers within 5 minutes. ‘The customers appreciate our speed enormously, and our travel experts love sharing their expertise through WhatsApp. So far, we had over 100 WhatsApp conversations in about six months. That’s not an impressive number yet, but we see a clear growth in both WhatsApp conversations and revenue. To us, it’s clear that WhatsApp works.’


About Nederlandse Energie Maatschappij
The Dutch Energy Company on WhatsApp: ‘Be reachable, use it to defuse crises and keep monitoring.’

The Dutch Energy Company, the largest independent energy supplier of the Netherlands, has been challenging its more traditional competitors since 2005, strongly believing that more suppliers stimulate lower energy prices – and better customer service. They can be reached through WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, live chat, phone, email, and an online forum.

Not many people have a strong bond with their energy supplier – and the average Net Promoter Score (NPS) for the energy market clearly reflects that. NPS is a score between -100 and +100 to indicate how happy and loyal customers are to a company, with negative scores standing for red flags indicating that customers are not satisfied.

The energy market has an NPS of -20. This means that basically, consumers are pretty indifferent to whichever company provides their household with energy. They don’t really care, and if they do, it’s one green flag less (a ‘like’, if you like). Smart companies respond to their customers’ indifference or sheer dislike by being equally indifferent or dislikeable. Why bother, right?

Here’s why: unhappy customers are the least loyal customers around. They’re with you, and all seems well – until all of a sudden, they’re gone, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Increasing the NPS has understandably become a top priority for the Netherlands’ largest independent energy supplier, the Nederlandse Energie Maatschappij (NLE, founded in 2005). With an average NPS of 0 (as in: customers are ‘okay’ with the company) they’re doing much better than most of their competitors (-20).

The team at NLE seems to understand that peering at wattage bills is a bit like filling in tax forms: pretty boring. We all want to get it over with quickly, but sometimes we just can’t: energy is a complicated topic. So when we finally have the guts to look up the contact details of our energy supplier to ask a question, we want as fast an answer as possible.

NLE’s tip number 1: Be reachable, also through WhatsApp
NLE’s vision is crystal clear: offering outstanding customer service, and cheap energy. Because it’s great service that binds customers, not just low prices. And service, according to NLE, is about being easily reachable. If a million people happen to enjoy communicating with their social and business contacts through a great little app, you make sure you own that great little app. (Although Facebook took that literally, there’s no need to feel like you have to buy WhatsApp. Just get your company on it!)

Being on WhatsApp nowadays is a must, confirms Caroline Bevaart, branding supervisor at NLE. ‘If you want to offer flawless customer service, you listen to customers in whatever way they want. At this moment, their favourite channels are phone, email, live chat, Facebook, Twitter – and WhatsApp.’

NLE started experimenting with the WhatsApp channel in the summer of 2015. ‘To us, service means being reached easily and quickly. If our customers use WhatsApp, why not help them through WhatsApp? None of our competitors offered this type of service yet. So our Social Hub team started testing WhatsApp carefully. And soon enough it became clear that this service actually cut down the phone queue and made customers very happy indeed.’

NLE’s tip number 2: Use WhatsApp to defuse crises
NLE started off by displaying its WhatsApp phone number only on the customer service contact page. The channel was monitored by the Social Hub, NLE’s webcare team (Facebook, Twitter, live chat, WhatsApp, online forum). ‘That went well enough. But then we changed something about our billing structure and suddenly our regular phone queue quadrupled.’

A customer service crisis was at hand. So many customers started calling NLE with urgent billing questions, that the Social Hub decided to bring WhatsApp to the fore: the message on the voice tape now specifically said that NLE could also be reached through WhatsApp. ‘And boom, our WhatsApp channel exploded! It really helped to make customers aware of this new service we’re offering.’

NLE’s tip number 3: Keep monitoring and measuring
Though the Social Hub still monitors a small percentage of all incoming WhatsApp messages (mainly as an ‘antenna’ to keep the Hub’s social media experts up to date), the WhatsApp service channel was transferred to the general customer service team at the start of 2016. ‘WhatsApp is such a success partly because it forces us to closely monitor the way we handle it,’ Caroline says. ‘And that is a good thing, really. It keeps us alert.’

Being alert is crucial when it comes to WhatsApp. Because this is one of the few companies not opening up its API to the public (unlike, for instance, Facebook Messenger), WhatsApp determines the rules and we all have to follow suit. The threat of being blocked looms constantly. Anyone who seems remotely commercial gets banned temporarily or indefinitely.

If you send too many messages too frequently, WhatsApp throws you out. Identical messages: same story. Sending the same link to too many people: not done. ‘That’s why we spread any identical messages about, for instance, customer surveys, throughout the day,’ Caroline explains, ‘and not to everyone who messages us. We change the links so they’re never the same. We never got blocked by WhatsApp.’

NLE uses WhatsApp each day of the week, and the opening hours are communicated on the WhatsApp status and the website. The company now sends out about 300 WhatsApp messages a day as a reaction to about 800 customer messages a day – all of which are responded to within 15 minutes (but usually within 3 minutes).

And the NPS for NLE’s WhatsApp channel? It’s 35 points higher than the average NPS for energy suppliers: +15 instead of -20. WhatsApp is, in sum, a major success. ‘It’s easy to understand why,’ Caroline says. ‘Communicating through WhatsApp is direct, personal and effective. People send us pictures of their meter readings or error messages, allowing us to be more to the point than ever before.’


Getting feedback through WhatsApp

To know how you’re doing on WhatsApp - and to measure the Net Promoter Score (NPS) of your newly launched channel - it’s important to get feedback. You can do this easily with a simple survey. It doesn’t even deserve to be called a “survey”, really, as it’s just a question or two. It should be as short as possible, and if you mention in the invitation just how short (“Would you please help us out by answering just two short questions?”), response rates will skyrocket.

Don't offer the survey after every single conversation, but only after every resolved issue. So what should you ask your customers? Nothing you already know (or should know). So don’t ask them what they’ve bought, or if they like it (they don’t know yet). You want to find out what annoys and delights your customers the most. Good surveys are about extremes, as these give you actionable points. It makes it easy for you to pinpoint what needs change right now.

There are two types of customer satisfaction surveys.

  • Transactional surveys. How happy is your customer with a recent interaction with you?
  • Relationship surveys. How happy is your customer with you as a company overall?

You could try a relationship survey, not gauging your customers’ satisfaction of the WhatsApp interaction, but rather of the overall relationship. However, their judgement will be influenced by the conversation they just had through WhatsApp, which could skew the results and not actually represent their real sentiment.

My advice is to use WhatsApp as a transactional survey tool only, using it to figure out just how (un)happy your customers are with your WhatsApp support.

So what should you ask? Depends on your goal:

Option 1: NPS

If you want to know your Net Promoter Score (NPS), ask something along the lines of:

How likely are you to recommend the WhatsApp channel
as a way to answer your questions about {company name} to colleagues or friends?
(0 = the least likely, 10 = the most likely)

Then, if the score is between 0 to 8, ask:

Thank you for responding.
According to you, what should we improve first, {contact name}?

Or, if the score is 9 or 10, ask:

Hurray! What do you like most about WhatsApp
as one of our customer service channels, {contact name}?

Option 2: CES

If you want to know your customer effort score (CES), ask:

How much effort did it personally take you to get your request resolved?
(1 = the lowest effort, 5 = the highest)

As soon as your contact replies, write:

Thank you for responding, {contact name}.
How can we make it easier for you next time?

Option 3: NPS + CES

If you are interested in both your NPS and your CES, ask:

How likely are you to recommend the WhatsApp channel
as a way to answer your questions about {company name} to colleagues or friends?
(0 = the least likely, 10 = the most likely)

As soon as your contact replies, write:

Thank you for responding.
How much effort did it personally take you to get your request resolved?
(1 = the lowest effort, 5 = the highest)

As soon as your contact replies, write:

I’ve made a note of it, {contact name}.
How can we make it easier for you next time?

Closing the conversation

You might have noticed I thanked the customer loads in the above examples. Remember: customer is king! Your company exist thanks to the fact that he believes in you, trusts you and gives you some of his money because of all this. Each form of feedback he gives should be welcomed like a gift!

So don’t forget to thank your contact for his time and efforts, and close the conversation nicely, for instance with something like this:

Thanks so much for your time !
What we learn from one customer will help us to better serve another.

You may want to alter this message a little bit each time, especially if you send out lots of surveys.